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Supreme Court denies California church's challenge to state restrictions

The Supreme Court issued a rare late-night ruling on Friday against a California church challenging the state’s stay-at-home order.

In a 5-4 vote, Chief Justice John Roberts broke from other conservative justices to rule in favor of the state. The case was brought by the South Bay United Pentecostal Church in Chula Vista, Calif., which said Gov. Gavin NewsomGavin NewsomOVERNIGHT ENERGY: Ford, GM scientists knew in 1960s that emissions caused climate change: report | Testing for oil in Arctic wildlife refuge proposed for this winter | Biden's oil stance jars Democrats in tough races Electric vehicles see state-level gains 10 under-the-radar races to watch in November MORE’s (D) stay-at-home order ignored religious freedoms.

Roberts noted in an opinion concurring in the unsigned ruling that the restrictions in place apply to nonreligious gatherings and therefore don’t pose a threat to religious liberties. 

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“Although California’s guidelines place restrictions on places of worship, those restrictions appear consistent with the free exercise clause of the First Amendment,” Roberts wrote.

“Similar or more severe restrictions apply to comparable secular gatherings, including lectures, concerts, movie showings, spectator sports, and theatrical performances, where large groups of people gather in close proximity for extended periods of time,” he wrote. 

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“California’s 25% occupancy cap on religious worship services indisputably discriminates against religion, and such discrimination violates the First Amendment,” Kavanaugh wrote, referring to an order Newsom made on Monday, after the lawsuit was filed, allowing churches to operate at 25 percent capacity. 

Public health officials have said that spending prolonged periods of time indoors with others, as one does during church services or certain sporting events, increases the risk of contracting the virus. 

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The ruling came the same day the court denied Illinois churches’ request to remove the state's coronavirus restrictions after Gov. J.B. Pritzker (D) lifted the measures voluntarily.

Under the new guidelines issued by the state's department of health this week, places of worship are advised to hold drive-thru and remote services, but doing so is not mandated.

The decision effectively made the suit from Elim Romanian Pentecostal Church and Logos Baptist Ministries moot.